Posts tagged ‘stress’

November 6, 2013

National Stress Awareness Day: BEDN #6

So, today it’s National Stress Awareness Day, apparently. I had no idea.

However, stress is something I have a very good knowledge of. This year has probably been one of the most stressful I’ve ever had and I’m actually quite proud of how I’ve coped through it. I’ve even recently written a post about managing stress, which you can find here

But overwhelmingly, the reason I’ve coped better with my stress this time is that I’ve been here before. Nearly eight years ago (which is a bit of a shock, as it means I’m not the teenager my brain often tries to convince me of) I had a bit of a meltdown. I’d just moved house, and I was planning my wedding, and then I got a promotion at work. The combination of living through what are commonly held to be amongst the most stressful things you can go through, all at once, conspired to send me spiralling out of control, like Alice falling down the rabbit hole.

The worst bit was at work. I’d got to a point where I felt like I should know the things that I didn’t know. And so I was too embarrassed to ask the questions that I really needed to ask. I struggled, and bluffed, and panicked and just about held it together for a while and then, everything collapsed and I ended up being signed off sick and prescribed medication; Prozac.It was a really horrible time. I felt as though I’d let so many people down, family, friends, colleagues, and I thought I’d made a fool of myself too. After several months away from work, and some counselling, I made a phased return to work. Then I found out I was pregnant.  Still on Prozac, I was told that I had to come off it straight away, rather than the recommended gradual reduction. So, then I struggled with dizziness, nausea, and general freaking-out, as my body came off the drugs overnight, and emotionally I was riddled with fear that I’d somehow damaged the new baby growing inside me. All good fun…

Anyway. I survived. The baby survived. Thrived, in fact, despite an early arrival.  She’s seven on Sunday. And I’m still living a life that’s a bit like Alice In Wonderland, though these days the character I identify with is the White Rabbit, as I’m always late…

I’ve mentioned above about my post that identifies lots of tips about stress management and if you’re struggling yourself, then I think it would be a good read for you. But more than anything, my number one piece of advice for anyone struggling with stress is this:Ask for help.We’re always expecting so much of ourselves, and quite often asking for help feels like an admission that we’ve somehow failed at life. These days, if I can feel myself getting really strung out, or notice my tell-tale signs (crying all the time, waking in the night and not being able to get back to sleep, lethargy, lacking interest in exercise, over-eating and drinking) then I ask for help. And I’m at the front of the queue when it comes to asking the ‘stupid’ questions, those ones that you think you should already have the answers to. I’d rather do that than face the alternatives. And chances are, someone else is relieved that you asked the question that they wanted to ask too!

So, do, ask for help, from family, friends, colleagues or your doctor. The one thing you really mustn’t do is try to struggle on alone. You’ll find that so many other people will empathise with you and so many people have been in a similar position. I wish you lots of luck and peace.

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December 3, 2012

Returning to Running.

A couple of weeks ago, during an appointment for something completely unrelated, my doctor checked my blood pressure and announced that unless I could manage to get it to come down, I’d have to start taking some medication for it. And that once I was taking that medication, it would be for the rest of my life.

My immediate response was to go home, burst into stressful tears and drink beer on the stairs. Excellent. And a touch over-dramatic, I know. Not the first time I’ve had that kind of response to something a doctor has told me. Once I’d pulled myself together, splendidly supported by a soundtrack suggested by Twitter (and in particular from the always-on-the-money @wandapops) I started to think about the last time I’d been told that I needed to reduce my blood pressure and how I’d managed it.

Since my first pregnancy ended at thirty weeks with severe pre-eclampsia, I’ve suffered with high blood pressure and the only thing that has really worked to reduce it is running. Since returning to full time work after the birth of my second child, I’ve struggled to fit it into my schedule. And, like many people, looking after myself has dropped further and further down the list until it barely registers at all. Now, though, I have to re-think how I approach exercise. Not as a luxury bit of time for myself – which is how I’ve increasingly come to think of it – but as something essential, something that underpins the rest of my life.

Alongside running, I’ve got to lose a bit of weight again, and try to eat healthily and drink less alcohol. All those behavioural things that, even if they don’t give you a longer life, certainly make it feel as though you’ve lived longer! I’m not going to turn into a fun-free Puritan though. Everything in moderation. But I know that I owe it to myself and the people that love me to make a decent job of looking after myself a bit better. I know that taking medication is not the end of the world, and I’m grateful that it exists, should I need it. However, I really want to return to better habits, so that I don’t need to just yet.  I feel too young to be taking beta-blockers!

So, a new schedule is needed. One in which running is built in as an essential element, not as an afterthought. I’ve struggled with running on and off for the past few years. I have poor feet and knees. But I’ve been out three times this week, and I’ve surprised myself by enjoying it enormously. I’ve learnt that what Jayne from Veggie Runners told me is very true  – namely that once you’ve been a runner, no matter how long the break, it’ll be easier to run again than it was the first time around. This is very encouraging, and has helped me to keep going when it’s been tough, cold and muddy. I’m also grateful to those people who have offered to run with me. I’m better in (slow!) company,  I think. My initial goal is to do a decent time at a Parkrun in January, and then see how I get on, perhaps with Outlaw Runners in Leeds. But this time, I’m less bothered about improving times, entering races or anything like that. This time the only numbers that count are 120/80, and my goal is to get closer to them…

See, I told you it was muddy…

December 28, 2011

2011: A Personal Review

At the end of every year, I always get an unsettled, ‘must-do-something-but-not-quite-sure-what’ feeling. How much of this is caused by the sheer amount of food I usually consume at Christmas I don’t know, but my usual remedy is to review the year and then think ahead to the next.  I’ve already written my plan for 2012, which is here on the blog, so that part is settled. I have a good feeling about 2012. Not sure why, but I do.

I didn’t write a plan for 2011. Which is why I ended up with 35:35 because I like to have a (flexible) plan for my time. When it came to reviewing the year, I just couldn’t think why I’d not written a plan and what on earth I spent the first quarter of the year doing. Then my lovely friend reminded me that I’d actually spent the whole time fighting for my job. Ah…

How quickly the mind forgets. My husband and I both had to go through months of fighting for our jobs. Months. It was a horrible time, filled with sleepless nights, tears and too much coping alcohol, all whilst trying to keep our stress and fears away from our children. Thankfully, we were the lucky ones, who got to keep the jobs we are both so passionate about, even though I did end up needing counselling at the end of the year to help me cope with everything that’s happened. It’s not finished though, there will be more changes and challenges ahead. Life is change. But we will survive.

Once the dust had settled in April, albeit with a different team, management structure etc etc, I started to focus on my personal life again, starting this blog and my 35:35 Challenge, to do thirty five things I’d never done before in my thirty-fifth year of life. I didn’t want it to be a huge challenge, but something to shake me up a bit out of life’s routine, do something positive after a difficult period, learn something new and have a few happy experiences. I read a study once that said new experiences are the way to slow time down. Following nothing but a routine means that weeks become months, which become years, without you even realising that so much time has passed. Puncturing that routine means that the brain remembers time better, which in turn makes it feel as though it’s not passing so fast.

So, from April, it’s a bit easier for me to remember what I’ve been up to this year. Highlights include my daughter starting school and thriving there (even though I was shocked to realise that girls can be mean from a very early age), taking her horse-riding for the first time, the completion of the Yorkshire 3 Peaks, and getting on a bike for the first time since childhood and completing Cycletta. Cycletta, a women-only bike ride, was a particular highlight because initially I was supposed to do it with someone else, who ended up having a family responsibility on the same day and so couldn’t make it. I nearly pulled out, but in the end I went and completed the ride on my own. It was such a brilliant, positive experience and I was thrilled to complete and chat to so many wonderful women the whole way round. After finishing the ride, I realised that I shouldn’t wait for someone else to want the same things as me before doing something. I have a habit of doing that, but sometimes it means that I never end up doing things I want to do. If I want to experience something, I need to just pluck up the courage and go for it.  I also realised that riding bikes is brilliant and that my body is far better suited to cycling than it is to running.

Other highlights have been a drumming lesson, various massages, and my annual visit to Paris, including a visit to Chanel.  Oh, and I was thrilled to be part of the annual Radio 4 Woman’s Hour phone-in too. I have completed 15 of my 35 Challenges. The first half of 2012 is going to be filled with trying to get to 35!

So, it’s been an interesting year and I have my plan for 2012. I’m feeling more settled, and ready for whatever comes next.

Happy New Year everyone!

What was your highlight of 2011? What are you hoping to do in 2012?

November 5, 2011

Stressed.

So, my doctor says I’m suffering from stress. Surprised? No, me neither. I have a full time job, with plenty of pressure and not enough resources, and two small children. Oh, and there’s still a hole in the house roof…

I had a telephone appointment with a counsellor yesterday, and she asked me to explain my life to her. At the end of it, she said ‘I’m a bit stuck here’… Not a terribly reassuring thing to hear a therapist say, especially down the telephone, which clearly isn’t a long term solution. I do now have five sessions face to face with someone else and we’ll see how that goes.

One of the things she asked me was what in life I could stop doing. Anything that I could give up, which would give me more time to just ‘be’ instead of being on the perpetual treadmill of ‘doing’. A lot of the causes of stress in my life at the moment are externally driven, things I cannot change. The truth is that I cannot afford to reduce my hours at work, and I clearly cannot hand over my kids to someone else until they start sleeping through the night, so really, the only things I can give up are those things I do for myself. The things I do to keep a bit of me around, the me that isn’t an employee or a mother, but just me. I’m not about to do that, because those are the things that help me retain my sanity, albeit on a very loose thread.

I could, however, give up my 35:35 Challenge. I’ve come to realise that I am pretty unlikely to get to complete 35 new things before June, unless there is a flurry of activity soon. It’s hard to find the time in amongst all the other things that need doing every day, or every week. After a bit of thought, what I’ve decided to do, rather than giving it up, is to stop putting pressure on myself to complete it. So what if I only do twenty new things in the year? That’s still a good handful of new experiences, new people, new places. The journey is what counts, not whether I make the numbers ( I have enough budget management to do as it is!).

So, a relaxing, then, of the Challenge. Not an abandonment. I do still have things in the pipeline that I will continue to do. Some of them I will be writing about very soon. And there is still my ‘Bucket List’. A more important list of things I really, really want to do before I drop off my perch, which I wrote ages ago and then ignored, like somehow it was going to just happen all by itself. So, there’s the rest of my life to think about that, rather than just the time to my next birthday.

But what I need to do now is find some better coping mechanisms. The last thing I want is for my children (who let’s be truthful, are often the cause of my stress, as well as my happiness) to suffer because I am exhausted, anxious, weepy or snappy. I’ve started taking a better, more objective look at myself and what I’m doing every day. My crutches have been occasional drinking, way too much sugar, and getting into bed or slumping in front of the TV instead of to the gym or out in the fresh air. I also need to tidy the house, as the sheer amount of things we have in it sometimes feels as though the walls are closing in. In her wonderful book and website  “The Happiness Project“, Gretchen Rubin understands that outer calm creates inner happiness, and I agree with her, so I need to tackle the clutter!

I don’t think it’s a generalisation too far to say that working mums (or dads) put themselves at the bottom of a long list of people, but once you burn out, then you are not helping yourself or them. So, time for a bit of self-help, alongside the counselling. Better nutrition, that will give me more, longer sustained energy; getting some exercise; a massage. Taking some time for me, to find a bit of calm and peace on that treadmill.

If there are any stress management things you do, that you think would help me out, do let me know. I know I’m not the only one out there who juggles a lot in life, so it would be brilliant to hear how you manage it!